Freedom House Study Finds Mounting Threats to Internet Freedom

Washington, DC, April 18, 2011–Cyberattacks, politically motivated censorship, and government control over internet infrastructure are among the diverse and growing threats to internet freedom, according to Freedom on the Net 2011: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media, a new study released today by Freedom House.

These encroachments on internet freedom come at a time of explosive growth in the number of internet users worldwide, which has doubled over the past five years. Governments are responding to the increased influence of the new medium by seeking to control online activity, restricting the free flow of information, and otherwise infringing on the rights of users.

“These detailed findings clearly show that internet freedom cannot be taken for granted,” said David J. Kramer, executive director of Freedom House. “Nondemocratic regimes are devoting more attention and resources to censorship and other forms of interference with online expression.”

Freedom on the Net 2011, which identifies key trends in internet freedom in 37 countries, follows a pilot edition that was released in 2009. Freedom on the Net evaluates each country based on barriers to access, limitations on content, and violations of users’ rights.

The study found that Estonia had the greatest degree of internet freedom among the countries examined, while the United States ranked second. Iran received the lowest score in the analysis. Eleven other countries received a ranking of Not Free, including Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand. A total of 9 of the 15 countries in the original pilot study registered declines over the past two years. Conditions in at least half of the newly added countries similarly indicated a negative trajectory. Crackdowns on bloggers, increased censorship, and targeted cyberattacks often coincided with broader political turmoil, including controversial elections.

Countries at Risk: As part of its analysis, Freedom House identified a number of important countries that are seen as particularly vulnerable to deterioration in the coming 12 months: Jordan, Russia, Thailand, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

Key Trends

* Explosion in social-media use met with censorship: In response to the growing popularity of internet-based applications like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, many governments have started targeting the new platforms as part of their censorship strategies. In 12 of the 37 countries examined, the authorities consistently or temporarily imposed total bans on these services or their equivalents.

* Bloggers and ordinary users face arrest: Bloggers, online journalists, and human rights activists, as well as ordinary people, increasingly face arrest and imprisonment for their online writings. In 23 of the 37 countries, including several democratic states, at least one blogger or internet user was detained because of online communications.

* Cyberattacks against regime critics intensifying: Governments and their sympathizers are increasingly using technical attacks to disrupt activists’ online networks, eavesdrop on their communications, and cripple their websites. Such attacks were reported in at least 12 of the 37 countries covered.

* Politically motivated censorship and content manipulation growing: A total of 15 of the 37 countries examined were found to engage in substantial online blocking of politically relevant content. In these countries, website blocks are not sporadic, but rather the result of an apparent national policy to restrict users’ access to information, including the websites of independent news outlets and human rights groups.

* Governments exploit centralized internet infrastructure to limit access: Centralized government control over a country’s connection to international internet traffic poses a significant threat to free online expression, particularly at times of political turmoil. In 12 of the 37 countries examined, the authorities used their control over infrastructure to limit widespread access to politically and socially controversial content, and in extreme cases, cut off access to the internet entirely.

“The ability to communicate political views, organize, debate, and have access to critical information is as important online as it is in the offline world,” said Sanja Kelly, managing editor of the report. “A more urgent response is needed to protect bloggers and other internet users from the sorts of restrictions that repressive governments have already imposed on traditional media,” Kelly added.

Other Important Country Findings:

* China: The Chinese government boasts the world’s most sophisticated system of internet controls, and its approach has become even more restrictive in recent years. Blocks on Facebook and Twitter have become permanent, while domestic alternatives to these applications have risen in popularity despite being forced to censor their users. The authorities imposed a months-long shutdown of internet access in the western region of Xinjiang during the report’s coverage period, and at least 70 people were in jail for internet-related reasons as of 2010.

* Iran: Since the protests that followed the flawed presidential election of June 12, 2009, the Iranian authorities have waged a fierce campaign against internet freedom, including deliberately slowing internet speeds at critical times and using hacking to disable opposition websites. An increasing number of bloggers have been threatened, arrested, tortured, or kept in solitary confinement, and at least one died in prison.

* Pakistan: In recent years—under both military rule and an ostensibly democratic civilian government—the authorities have adopted various measures to exert some control over the internet and the sharing of information online. In mid-2010, a new Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites was established to identify sites for blocking based on vaguely defined offenses against the state or religion.

* United States: Access to the internet in the United States remains open and free compared with the rest of the world. Users face very few restrictions on their ability to access and publish content online, and courts have consistently held that prohibitions against government regulation of speech apply to material published on the internet. However, the United States lags behind many major industrialized countries in terms of broadband penetration and connection speeds, and the government’s surveillance powers are cause for some concern.

The full report can be viewed here.

The overview essay and selected graphs can be viewed here.

Freedom House would like to acknowledge the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) and Google for their generous support. Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights. Join us on Facebook and Twitter and stay up to date with Freedom House’s latest news and events by signing up for our RSS feeds.

NOTE: You can download the Nigeria report here.

ReVoDa Users Give Verdict on Nigeria’s Presidential Election

Considered the most critical of Nigeria’s elections, considering the critical – and powerful – role that the president plays in the republic, the presidential election of April 16 has received so much attention. Voter turn-out improved when compared to the April 9 National Assembly elections but, as the final figures from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will reveal, there is still a sense of voter apathy that needs to be addressed. Nigerians need to be commended, along with elected/appointed officials who were saddled with the task of delivering hitch-free elections, for participating and watching over their mandate. It was pleasing to hear about communities that literally rejected efforts that sought to compromise the process even at the polling unit level.

The mobile app, ReVoDa, has now been downloaded by over 7,700 people. Building on the reports received on April 9 for the National Assembly elections, this week saw 466 new incident reports from ReVoDa users across 35 of 37 states (including the capital, Abuja) – compared with 27 states (including Abuja) last week. Reports were sent from Abia, Abuja, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara states. New states that sent in reports for the presidential elections include Bauchi, Cross River, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Enugu, Nasarawa, Sokoto, Yobe and Taraba, while no incident report was received this week from Gombe (which had reports for the National Assembly elections) and Bayelsa. The following summary reveals the verdict of ReVoDa users on the presidential elections:

  • Electoral Officials’ Arrival: There was visible improvement over the April 9 reports, with only 2 (or 0.42% of 480) reports that there were no INEC officials at polling unit (PU) 10/22/8/7 (Delta State) at 9:26am and PU 18/8/11/12 (Kaduna State) at 10:03am. 33 polling units (6.88%) reported that INEC officials arrived late while 445 (92.71%) citizen reports confirmed on time arrival of officials. With 480 reports, we received 38% more reports than last week’s 349. Late arrival of INEC officials was down to about 7% from 36% while on-time arrival went up from 64% to 92.71%.
  • Materials’ Availability: 98.1% of the 367 ReVoDa users who sent in reports said they were sure that electoral materials were available ahead of the commencement of the voting process while 1.9% stated that electoral materials were insufficient. This shows an improvement over 79% of ReVoDa users who reported materials’ availability during the April 9 elections but the 2% who reported insufficient materials should not be ignored because it is the constitutional right of every citizen to vote on election days.
  • Voting: 0.6% of ReVoDa reporters confirmed that voting had not started as at 1:30pm, compared to 1.3% from the April 9 election reports. Early arrival of (wo)men and materials must have contributed to this improvement, but the target should be 100% on-time arrival. Situations such as the delay that was experienced in Apapa (Lagos State) due to a protest over non-payment of allowances should be prevented. We also observed that some polling units also maintained more than 300 registered voters without the advised split into multiple voting centres.
  • Vote Counting and Result Announcement: 54% of ReVoDa users (same percentage as the April 9 election reports) stayed back at their polling units to confirm that they all witnessed vote counting. 92.4% of these reports confirmed that vote counting was done in their presence, immediately after the final voter exercised their voting rights. Of the 51.28% of ReVoDa citizen reporters that stayed back to witness result counting by INEC officials, 92.46% confirmed that results were announced.
  • Violence and Fraud: 2.15% of ReVoDa users reported incidents of violence in their polling units, up by 0.15% compared to the April 9 reports. Polling units in Lagos had the highest number of incident reports while ReVoDa users also reported violence incidents in polling units in Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Jigawa, Kebbi and Abuja. 2.36% reported suspected cases of fraud, down from April 9 reports’ 3.8%. Polling units from Lagos and Borno recorded more fraud reports but other states that had fraud reported from polling units include Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Kano, Rivers, Sokoto and Taraba.
  • Police Behaviour: Of the 309 ReVoDa users who commented on the behaviour of police officers in their polling units, 97.1% said the police officers were helpful (up from 96.3% on April 9), 2.27% thought they were biased (up from 1.6%) and 0.32% said the police officers in their polling units were intimidating (down from 2.1%). Until security of life and property is addressed at the highest level, our democratic experience – and general livelihood – will be imperfect.

We commend INEC for an improved outing, especially with the early arrival of their officials, but will say once again: you have a chance to make April 26 much better, and to use the state elections that will hold between 2012 and 2014 as opportunities to improve on the conduct of general elections in Nigeria. There were still many voided votes and low turn-out in some states, hence we call on all stakeholders to work with INEC to perfect this aspect of Nigeria’s democratic experience.

At the Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria coalition, we look forward to the last set of elections that will hold on Tuesday, April 26, so that we can have a honest review of the impact of our work – and also plan for the journey ahead. We believe that the real work starts after the elections, when citizens will hold governments accountable to demand good governance and public accountability. Even though the Register | Select | Vote | Protect (RSVP) Campaign has become popular among the electorate in general, and ReVoDa continually enjoys patronage and mention, we realise that the work of change in Nigeria cannot be reduced to few weeks of elections. We also appreciate our partners, City FM 105.1 (radio) and NN24 (TV), who consistently monitor the ReVoDa platform to share available content with citizens who may not have access to the platform. The project website,, remains available for anyone who wishes to follow reports, and all they have to do is to click on the View Reports button on the homepage.

We encourage Nigerians, once again, to check the results that they dutifully recorded and transmitted from their polling units, against INEC’s official breakdown of results in polling units, to confirm that their votes were accurately reflected. This is 2011, our votes will count!

With ReVoDa, Young Nigerians Monitor Nigeria’s 2011 Elections

Yesterday, Nigerians returned to their respective polling units to cast their votes for candidates seeking to represent us at 312 of 360 Federal Constituencies and 94 of 109 Senatorial Districts where elections were not postponed. The turn-out could be better, but we commend the Nigerians who braced the odds – including security fears – to exercise their mandate.

EiE Nigeria continues to work towards getting out the youth vote, in particular, while also encouraging young Nigerians to demand good governance and public accountability from elected officials at all levels. Towards this, we launched the Register | Select | Vote | Protect (RSVP) Campaign which has become popular among the electorate in general. As part of the RSVP Campaign, we designed ReVoDa, a mobile application that allows mobile phone users to report incidents, progress, issues and results from their respective polling units. ReVoDa users are also consistently kept up-to-date on electoral issues. We are glad to announce that everyone can now view reports sent in by ReVoDa users across Nigeria via our project website,, by clicking on the View Reports button on the homepage.

The newly launched ReVoDa app has already been downloaded by over 6,300 people. For the National Assembly elections, we received 556 reports from ReVoDa users across 27 states (including Abuja). We got reports from Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Benue, Borno, Delta, Edo, FCT, Gombe, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers and Zamfara states. The following summary shows our ReVoDa app users thought about yesterday’s elections:

  • Electoral Officials’ Arrival: 349 citizen reporters confirmed that INEC officials arrived on time while 195 stated that the officials arrived late. While 64% may be quickly graded as a B, we believe that 100% prompt arrival should be the target, considering the critical role this factor plays in the entire success of the Modified Open Ballot System that INEC has adopted for the 2011 elections.
  • Materials’ Availability: 79% of ReVoDa users who sent in reports said they were sure that electoral materials were available ahead of the commencement of the voting process. 20% did not report on the availability of materials while 1% stated that electoral materials were insufficient. We believe that INEC officials should allay the expected fears of voters – based on past experiences – that electoral materials may not be sufficient or available.
  • Voting: 1.3% of ReVoDa reporters confirmed that voting had not started as at 1:30pm in their polling units, and we believe this is not unconnected to the late arrival of INEC officials and materials. We also think this may be due to the inability of some polling units with more than 300 registered voters to split into multiple voting centres.
  • Vote Counting and Result Announcement: 54% of ReVoDa users stayed back at their respective polling units and confirmed that they all witnessed vote counting and result announcement. We commend the stance of INEC that voters are allowed to stay back to witness the counting of votes. As far as EiE Nigeria is concerned, protecting our votes is not something we can leave to party agents, it’s something that every Nigerian must do!
  • Violence and Fraud: 2% of ReVoDa users reported incidents of violence in their polling units while 3.8% reported suspected cases of fraud.
  • Police Behaviour: We commend INEC and the Police for providing hotlines that citizens can use to reach them for needed help, and we have since made the numbers automatically available to everyone who downloads the ReVoDa mobile application by storing the mobile numbers in the application. Of the 371 ReVoDa users who commented on the behaviour of police officers in their polling units, 96.3% said the police officers were helpful, 1.6% thought they were biased and 2.1% said the police officers in their polling units were intimidating. We urge INEC to work with security agencies to prevent a repeat of bias or intimidation during the April 16th and 26th elections.

We believe that even though the elections are not perfect, April 9th was a much more exciting day for young voters, who kept the world informed though various social media platforms and the ReVoDa mobile application. However, April 16th and April 26th must be significantly improved so that Nigerians can believe in the electoral process, which we see as a major cornerstone of our growing democracy. For example, there were many voided votes recorded in polling units across Nigeria, which points to the need for INEC to make electoral materials available ahead of elections so that stakeholders can educate voters better. Names of registered voters were reported missing, and the low turnout, which saw a polling unit recording as low as 5.75% out of potential 600 registered voters, should concern all stakeholders. We encourage Nigerians to check the results that they dutifully recorded and transmitted from their polling units, against INEC’s official breakdown of results in polling units, to confirm that their votes were accurately reflected.

Black All

Lives lost in line of duty
Erasing the day’s beauty
Black Friday I was quick to say
But streams of thoughts came my way

A certain Sunday in Lagos
It was a huge dose of loss
And few Mondays ago
My friend’s loss was a huge blow

Tuesdays, Wednesday, Thursdays
All have become sad days
As if to join them all
Saturday has had evil on its wall

My heart sinks for my nation
When we should anticipate celebration
But then, I rise. I lift my head
Even if warning lights are bright red

Black all, days of the week
Strength declines, many are weak
But then, we rise. We decide for tomorrow
We will not bow at the feet of sorrow

Black all, the mood across the land
But we’ll walk hand in hand
They assume fear begins with a bomb
But I reply: change begins with my thumb!

Written in honour of the lives lost at the Suleja office of the Nigerian Independent National Electoral Commission tonight. We will not disappoint you, your loss will not be in vain!

As Nigeria Decides (6)

INEC Twitter Announcement

INEC Twitter Announcement

Today should not have happened.

But it did, so there are some important lessons that must not be lost in the honest feedback – and analysis paralysis – that has followed the cancellation of Nigeria’s parliamentary elections. My tweet just after the announcement, “BEST: Smoothly-run + Free and fair. BETTER: Postponed + Free and fair. WORSE: Terribly-run + Not free and not fair. #NigeriaDecides #rsVp”, says exactly how I feel about the unfortunate incident that has cost everyone huge resources – and will still cost more if the election is repeated on Monday as announced by the INEC chairman. INEC should have worked to prevent this or announce a cancellation immediately it was obvious that materials will not be delivered on time.

The first lesson INEC has probably learnt by now is that each election day can be a nightmare, especially with the many moving parts involved. So, why spread this over three weekends? If the Governorship and State Assembly elections are held on the same day, why can’t the Presidential and National Assmebly elections be held on the same day too. It’s something like putting your eggs in two baskets, and not three, so you can spend all your energy guarding the two – instead of having it diluted over three. And just before you say, “it’s the law”, be reminded of the many revisions the Electoral Act has gone through in the past few months. Law is made for man, and not man for the law.

Another lesson is from a question that I’ve not found the bandwidth to push over: why is INEC not using the mobile numbers they got from each voter that registered for the elections. I would have expected INEC to send text messages to everyone today just as the chairman was making that difficult speech. Those who have downloaded EiE Nigeria‘s ReVoDa mobile application have continued to receive updates about the process, and I’m sure some of them saved time on the queues that were headed towards postponement. I must commend the brilliant use of the twitter account, @inecnigeria, during today’s confusion though. It was great to see the account denouncing and confirming rumours as appropriate.

In a nation where the rumor mill is the biggest communication machinery, new media isn’t luxury – it is necessary. But then, how many of us kept twitter a-beeping? SMS wil do the trick. Imagine waking up on election morning to read this: “Dear proud Nigerian voter, today is the D-Day. Please hurry through the bathroom and kitchen, grab a can or two, and head for your polling unit. We assure you that your vote will count. Yours, INEC.” Okay, not exactly those words, but you get the point. 🙂

Another lesson from today would be this: you need ReVoDa. Apologies to those whose phones can’t run the app, but everyone else can avoid becoming victims of the rumour mill. Trust me, there will always be rumours on election day. I was the Chief Rumour Killer at my polling unit today, thanks to the INEC twitter accoount and the many channels that I had the opportunity of being hooked up to. Another lesson that relates directly to ReVoDa is the EiE Nigeria website, A lot of people were trying to get numbers for their State Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) today, because of the inability to reach the INEC hotlines, and they could have saved themselves the stress of looking for a vendor to supply a national newspaper that listed the numbers by asking anyone with a connected phone to go to EiE Nigeria’s website. And I’m sure there are many other websites that provide similar information!

So, on Monday (or another day, if the request of two political parties is accepted), it is important for everyone to return to their polling units to exercise their electoral rights. Why? Because those who seek to destroy Nigeria are desperate and we need to be a bit more desperate to beat them. I know there will be some funny bosses who will say you must show up or be fired, but a public holiday will likely be declared if Monday is final. And as of now, please plan for Monday. In fact, if INEC agrees to postpone again, the SMS rule must apply. I know the brilliant minds behind the technology engine know how to make that happen at low cost.

And then, the day’s biggest lesson: Nigerians want to make the elections work! From the brave youth corp members, who accepted to manage a process that has been known to cost human lives in the past, to the young people (and some, not so young) who made sure information flow and logistics support — between citizens and the process — was taken care of; and the many other people who took time to report their experiences — good or bad, via twitter, facebook, SMS, ReVoDa, ReclaimNaija, etc — you can literally cut through the spirit of support. Of course, there are those who would rather shop for what’s not working and those who know how to analyse even the things they would be unable to do, but we need every angle to see the complete picture. To everyone who made today work, in the few ways it did, you have my utmost respect!

As Nigeria Decides (5)

By now, everyone probably knows that Nigerians will, tomorrow, begin the process that will decide who the next set of National Assembly, Presidency and State-level leaders will be. Beginning with the National Assembly elections, the Presidential election follows next weekend (April 9) and the process will end with the Governorship/State Assembly elections on April 16. It’s also not news that EiE Nigeria is promoting ReVoDa, the mobile app that will allow Nigerians monitor the elections from their respective polling units.

Earlier today, I was joined by Emeka Okoye to discuss ReVoDa on Network News channel, NN24. Emeka needs no introduction as a mobile developer, but I must commend him for helping translate the idea of the mobile app into reality. The entire ReVoDa ecosystem has also benefited from a lot of volunteers, and I hope to tell the complete story of the development sometime soon. During the interview, which will be on air from this evening, we talked a lot about the opportunity that anything mobile presents for Nigeria (and developing countries) and the beauty of creating innovative products based on evident need. We also talked about the mobile app, how it works and how information will help make the 2011 elections more creedible.

Anyone who has ReVoDa installed on their mobile phone will be able to send reports after creating a profile that will map them to a location and then identify their polling unit and name each time they send reports. That way, we know who is sending the report and that helps with credibility and follow-up, if required. The beauty of ReVoDa also includes the opportunity to send location-specific messages to registered users about their area. If there are multiple reports that need critical verification, we know the who and how of taking care of the challenge. For example, registered users received a text message this evening reaffirming the fact that they can use mobile phones at polling units – and can stay back (after voting) to report results.

This became necessary because of a now-denied pronouncement by Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police, Hafiz Ringim, that mobile phones will not be allowed at polling units. Also, the National Security Adviser has been quoted as saying that voters should not stay back after voting. Of course, they’re both wrong – and the general feeling is that no one will take them seriously. Rather, their pronouncements have been interpreted to hint at possible attempts to rig the elections in the favour of the ruling party – something that Nigeria’s security machinery has perfected over the last 3 elections.

The reports from the mobile app will be monitored for situations that require immediate attention, and incidents will also be shared with media partners who can help make information available to the general public, when required. During the elections, tomorrow, live reports will be shared with NN24 TV and City FM radio station while progress report will be shared during a live BBC program. On Sunday, we will also share report conclusions with popular Nigerian news channel, Channels TV. Meanwhile, it’s exciting to see so many technology-driven election monitoring platforms, and I’m glad that teams of volunteers have taken up the challenge of aggregation.

As expected, there was increased interest in the mobile app today, with hundreds of downloads recorded within the first few hours of announcing a direct download link. And if you have not been to the ReVoDa website sometime after 12 noon today, please do so as there’s now a new homepage design that reduces the gap between potential mOnitors (or, how else does one write the short version of Mobile Monitor) and downloading the app. Publicity continues for ReVoDa via radio jingles (see below), television spots (see animation in YouTube clip above), targeted Facebook ads, flyers that are being distributed as I write this (see flyer above), and many other channels.

EiE Nigeria’s #ReVoDa Radio Jingle

Tomorrow is the first massive test for ReVoDa, and as the system improves through the entire 2011 electoral process, I see a future that may include citizen participation in the monitoring of good governance via manifesto promise delivery, government projects, corruption reports, and many other problems that Nigerians have almost come to accept as human. It will be interesting, for example, to see which state has the largest number of reports on corruption, which regions have the worst road networks and which location is the darkest on Nigeria’s map (as made possible by the hugely unliked Power Holding Company of Nigeria). Fortunately, Nigeria has elections in states such as Anambra, Edo, Ekiti, Ondo, Osun, etc, between 2012 and 2014, so ReVoDa will be way better in time for the 2015 elections. While I can’t predict the exact future of ReVoDa, I have some exciting thoughts that I’m sure other members of the team will love to pursue too.

As Nigeria decides, one way to help is to get ReVoDa on every mobile phone around you. ReVoDa is not just a mobile app, it’s a statement from the electorate stating clearly that this is 2011 (not 2003 or 2007) and our votes will count!

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